Affiliate links are a useful tool for online advertisers looking to gain a little extra traffic.
Essentially, you’ll be putting a link to your website, or a landing page, on an affiliate’s website or domain.
You’ll receive the benefit of extra traffic in exchange for a small fee, usually a fixed amount per click-through.
If you’re familiar with Google’s Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, you already know what affiliate marketing is like—traditional affiliate links work the same way, but with a site other than a major search engine.
Affiliate links can be tricky, however. Google is able to identify which links are designed for affiliate marketing, and traditionally, the search engine giant has held a firm stance that affiliate links are nofollow do not pass authority on to the destination site.
Affiliate links can be seen as endorsements, like a traditional backlink that offers a citation or a reference to an outside source, or advertisements, which are purchased and therefore do not pass any kind of authority.
Google views links as respectable, but they also see them as a form of advertising—so the rules of linking through affiliates are different if you’re trying to get the most out of your SEO campaign.
It’s impossible to get any authority to pass through your affiliate links directly, but there are a handful of techniques you can use to optimize new content and build more authority for your domain in general. There are three steps to this process.
Depending on your budget, you may have a limited range of options for potential affiliates. There are many popular options available, but if you’re interested in getting the most for your time and effort, it’s better to find one with relevance to your industry, or one with a high level of authority. Working with webmasters of low-authority article directories or similar shady schemes could cause your affiliate links to be seen as unscrupulous, or otherwise irrelevant. It’s true that these affiliate links do not pass authority, but if your webmaster posts the link incorrectly or if your link appears too frequently on the site, you could incur a penalty on your domain.
Secondly, you’ll want to find a webmaster who is easy to work with. Should anything change with your link or your campaign, you need to have a line of flexibility. Most respectable online domains will pose no problem for you, but run through your long-term options before finalizing any affiliate in your program.
Once you’ve found a suitable affiliate, you can start brainstorming about your links. Ideally, you’ll have a handful of different links to post for each affiliate site, so they can cycle through or add some diversity to the program. If you’re an e-commerce site, you can create different links for different products. Otherwise, you can create different naming conventions or different destinations based on your service offerings.
Next, you’ll want to create a unique landing page for each domain you have in your network of affiliates. For example, if you’re only working with one affiliate, you’ll only need to set up a landing page for that one, but if you’re working with three different webmasters, you’ll need three separate landing pages. This isn’t a requirement of affiliate marketing; instead, it’s a key opportunity to optimize your site for SEO, and improve your ability to track traffic and conversions.
The landing pages don’t need to be anything fancy, but they will need to be designed in a way that captures your inbound lead’s interest and gives them a chance to convert—whether that means purchasing a product or filling out a form. You’ll also need to make sure each landing page is set up under your core domain, with a unique and relevant URL associated with it. For example, if your domain is SEO.co, you could set up a trio of landing pages such as SEO.co/affiliate/affiliate-name-1, SEO.co/affiliate/affiliate-name-2, and SEO.co/affiliate/affiliate-name-3. Doing so will instantly give you three new pages of content on your domain, which will assist your onsite SEO efforts if you write them in line with SEO best practices.
As what might be an obvious piece of advice, make sure your landing pages are all uniquely written. Don’t simply change a handful of words around and hope that Google doesn’t catch you cutting corners; take the time to write each page from scratch if you want to avoid getting noticed for posting duplicate content. You could also use these landing pages to post inward links to your interior pages, giving you a tighter network of in-linking to enhance your navigation simplicity in the eyes of Google’s robots.
As an added bonus to the separate landing page structure, you’ll be able to set up individual goals in Google Analytics and attain valuable data about the nature of each inbound stream of traffic. If you’re dealing with multiple different affiliates, you probably already have an easy way to determine which is bringing you the most traffic—but with Goals, you’ll be able to see exactly how your users behave once they arrive to the landing pages, and which types of users are the most qualified as potential leads.
Now that you’ve got your affiliates chosen and you have your landing pages set up, it’s time for the final step of the process: adding more value to your affiliate’s site. This is where the flexible relationship with your webmasters will come in handy.
If your webmaster is open to the option, offer additional content for them to post around your link. There’s a chance you’ll have to pay for this extra service, but in most cases, webmasters will appreciate the opportunity to feature extra content onsite. One of the best ways to do this is to feature an embedded video, showcasing your brand or the product you’re going to be selling through the affiliate link, near the source of the link. For webmasters, it serves as a bonus piece of content. For users, it serves as an interactive preview before they ever have to click a link. For you, it’s a key opportunity to improve your offsite SEO. Anybody sharing or linking to your embedded video will pass link juice all the way back to your original domain, giving you one extra push for search optimization.
Other options include posting similarly engaging pieces of visual content, such as infographics, or using short clips of copy to optimize for a product name or brand name. As with any SEO-related copy, you’ll want to take efforts to avoid over-optimizing with irrelevant or spammy keyword choices.
The links you place in articles published on other people’s websites should go directly to meaty content directly on your website. These are your affiliate program landing pages discussed earlier in this article. You should never publish links with a redirect on other people’s websites – they might not like redirects and they might be removed. However, when placing affiliate links on your own site, as internal links, best practice is to use custom links from your domain that redirect to your actual affiliate link. For example:
Say you’re selling a shampoo product. Your affiliate link might look something like this:
Instead of linking directly to your affiliate link, you’ll link to a shorter URL on your website, like this:
Then you’ll create a redirect from www.yourdomain.com/shampoo to your affiliate link.
There are several good reasons to use redirects for your internal affiliate links, although you could go either way. Using bare affiliate links on your website won’t hurt your SEO rankings. However, it could hurt your SEO in the long run in other ways.
Google has no problem with webmasters using redirects for affiliate links. This practice is called “link cloaking.” And while some people choose not to make the effort to cloak their affiliate links, it’s actually better for you and better for your long-term SEO when you use this technique.
Since the purpose of SEO is to rank your web pages higher in the search engines to generate traffic that will click on your affiliate links, you can’t afford to have broken affiliate links on your site. If you spend time and money on SEO, but your affiliate links don’t’ work, your SEO efforts will have been for naught.
Unfortunately, affiliate links can become inactive without your knowledge. When these inactive links go unaddressed, all of your efforts to generate traffic, and every click you generate will be a waste because it won’t bring you any commissions.
Imagine joining an affiliate program for a handful of different affiliate networks and building a successful online business with plenty of site visitors. You go to great lengths to create landing pages for your target audience and you use high-level marketing techniques to generate passive income. Maybe you make a few hundred bucks from each of your affiliate programs and you’re starting to feel like you’re building up a reliable source of income.
What would you do if any of your affiliate links became inactive? If your referral links stop working, all of your clicks will be for nothing. This can happen for a variety of reasons, like if an affiliate program drops you from their network, the company goes out of business, or if any of your affiliate partners change their product URLs without using redirects.
Without cloaked links, if any of these things happen, you could end up with a website full of internal affiliate links that no longer work. For example, after including your affiliate links throughout your blog for several years, if you get dropped from a company’s affiliate program, all of those links will be useless to you.
Another potential issue is if you no longer want to support a product or company. Your blog will be full of your affiliate network links and you’ll have to hunt them down and change all of them one by one.
Cloaking your affiliate links makes it easy to fix these issues fast. For example, say you published a link to a specific product 100 times on your blog. If you didn’t cloak that link, you’ll need to edit or replace that link in all 100 individual instances.
On the other hand, if you created a redirect to cloak that link, all you have to do is delete the old redirect and create a new redirect. It will only take a couple of minutes compared to all the time it would take to replace your links manually.
If you end up with dead affiliate links, with cloaking, you can redirect people to a similar product from another affiliate program or if you don’t have a replacement yet, you can redirect people back to your home page or to a special page about shampoo. The point is, you only have to change one redirect link, and not hundreds of affiliate links.
Cloaking your affiliate links is the best way to preserve your affiliate income and make sure you don’t lose commission on affiliate sales. If you’re using search engine optimization to promote your site and get it ranked in Google, cloaking your links will make it easy to fix some of the most common issues regarding affiliate links becoming inactive.
Log into your website’s control panel and find the section that allows you to create redirects. Select a 302 redirect and redirect your full affiliate link to a short URL of your choice.
Generally, it’s ideal to use one short word for your redirects, as in the example of ‘www.yourdomain.com/shampoo’. Just make sure whatever path you choose doesn’t already exist with content otherwise people attempting to access that content will be redirected.
Content marketing is one of the best digital marketing strategies around. However, when you’re promoting content that contains affiliate product links, you have to think several steps into the future. Affiliate marketing programs can disappear, drop you from the program, or you might change your mind about who you wish to support.
The potential for affiliate links to change or become void is why you should:
Now that you know the best way to link products you promote from your affiliate sites, it’s important to remember affiliate program best practices. Your affiliate marketing income will depend on your ability to implement your marketing efforts effectively throughout all marketing channels. Content marketing will bring you web traffic, but if you want more sales you need a strong affiliate marketing strategy.
The truth is, most successful affiliate marketers have been in the game for many years, some for decades. They have high-quality marketing tools and know which affiliate opportunities to pursue.
Affiliate campaigns are all different, but if you manage partnerships correctly, get a solid understanding of the affiliate marketing industry, build a good affiliate website, and choose the right affiliate program, you’ll have a good chance at being successful.
If you haven’t already, it’s not too late to start affiliate marketing. A good affiliate marketing program will make sure you have all the tools you need to succeed with their affiliate program. You’ll have to do your own marketing, but you’ll have everything you need to get started.
Affiliate links aren’t a great SEO strategy by themselves, since they pass no authority onto your site, but they can be useful in terms of generating raw traffic to your pages. If you’re going to use affiliate links as part of your overall lead generation strategy, applying these steps can help you make the most of them. You generally don’t have to worry about the threat of a penalty, since Google understands and condones the use of affiliate links, but don’t pass up the opportunity for a little extra SEO power.